On March 16th, I watched as the United States baseball team suffered a 2-1 loss to Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. The team, stacked with perennial major league all-stars, walked off the field dejected, knowing they had completely embarrassed themselves. When I watched these players on the screen, I did what any good American would do: I laughed.
Two weekends previously, I had the opportunity to watch Team USA in an exhibition game in Arizona against the San Francisco Giants. At the time, I was somewhat exited about the World Baseball Classic, but part of me felt that it was nothing more than a marketing ploy. After all, the team?s roster was made up of players who were some of the most recognizable names in the sport. If the intent was to sell jerseys, the easiest way of doing so would be to put names like ?Jeter? or ?Clemens? on the back of them.
With that attitude, I walked into the gift store fully intending to buy an Australian team hat. I was saddened to discover that the hats of only a few teams were available. I paid the 25 dollars for my South African hat and went back to the stands hoping that the Giants would manage to upset the United States.
I wasn?t alone in that sentiment. As the next few days rolled by and the WBC began play, the only mentions of the tournament were when the United States lost. Everyone in the States seemed to hold the viewpoint that this tournament was merely an exhibition until the all-stars on Team USA met up with the all-stars on Team Dominican Republic. The only thing worth paying attention to was whether or not the Cuban players would defect from their country.
I did eventually become engrossed in the tournament. There was something infectious about watching many of the Latin fans cheer on their country with the sort of fervor that is seldom seen anywhere in this country. I desperately wanted to be around the Korean fans, wearing face paint and screaming for the team, or to be with the Venezuelan fans, banging drums and waving flags. However, I never wanted to be among the American fans. The sort of passiveness that we showed as a country is usually reserved for the spectators at a mid- August Kansas City Royals game.
This passiveness is indicative of American apathy as a whole with regards to international sports. Not only is it not expected for an American to support our county?s athletes, but it is also almost frowned upon to do so. When someone walks around with a Team USA shirt, regardless of the sport, he or she will receive strange looks from other people. Walk around wearing a Brazil soccer jersey and people will think that you know what you are talking about.
It?s obvious that Americans aren?t this passive towards sports as a whole. I?ve seen people cry over the loss of meaningless college basketball games, and I?ve seen people hug people they don?t know when a baseball player hits a homerun. Fans even manage to get into fights against fans of their team?s ?rivals.? There are dozens of sports channels, and one of the largest annual traditions is to gather with a bunch of people to watch the Super Bowl. Americans clearly have the capacity to be passionate about international sports; we simply choose to be apathetic.
The Olympics are a great example of the apathy of the American sports fan. Don?t get me wrong, we will watch certain events. However, sometimes we watch because they are events that actually interest us, but often we do it because the media has done a good enough job hyping a certain athlete that we feel an obligation to watch. We usually don?t watch it because we have an overwhelming sense of American pride. If that athlete loses, he or she is a national disgrace; take the skier Bode Miller, for example. If the athlete wins, they might get on Jay Leno, if they?re lucky. We?ll completely forget about him or her until the next Olympics rolls around. At the same time, a guy who hit a jump-shot at the buzzer in a basketball game 14 years ago will live on in our collective memories for years, even if he doesn?t do anything particularly spectacular afterwards.
I felt ashamed when I was watching the WBC championship game, and I saw how much the game meant to the Japanese and Cuban players and how little the tournament mattered to us as a nation. I still feel a little bad that I prefer my South African hat to my brother?s USA cap.
I wish that we all took a little more national pride in our sports and approached it with the same passion that we do for our professional and collegiate sports. I know that when the World Cup starts in a few months, I plan on waking up early to watch our nation try to match up with the international powerhouses and that I will actually hope that the team does well. I really hope that I am not the only one planning on doing this. Who knows? With any luck, we might even find it more fun than rooting for South Africa.